Imagining Success: Empowering Black Children to be the Heroes of Their Own Stories Through the Art of Photography
I'm not sure how your weekend went, but ours consisted of making kids' wildest dreams come true. We met a beautiful and talented ballerina and gymnast sister duo...
An adorable little astronaut who showed us that science can be fun for girls too...
A 9-year-old who loves reading and story time...
A beautiful AfroVictorian princess...
And a rainbow warrior.
It's hard to believe we accomplished all of that in one weekend, but when you're doing what you love, time seems to fly. We are Kahran and Reg Bethencourt, the husband-and-wife duo of CreativeSoul Photography, a children's photography studio in Atlanta.
We are grateful to be able to work with children around the world to tell their stories in our own unique way and we often say that we're more than just photographers—we've made it our mission to empower kids of color around the world by showcasing their beauty, uniqueness, and creativity. We believe the first step to success is imagining it, so we like to use our work as a stepping stone in each child's journey to success.
We're going to show you how you can join in on the fun and allow your kids to be the hero of their own story.
When tasked with creating images for our clients one of the first things we have them do is ask their kids one simple question: "If you could have the photoshoot of your dreams, what would it be?" Kids are so imaginative, so you can imagine how that question elicits some pretty interesting responses. We've had a superhero ballerina, a zebra princess, a fairytale lion, an African samurai warrior, and more.
Before a shoot, we typically gather all the elements we think can help tell each child's story. For instance, Sereé is a 9-year-old who absolutely loves books and storytelling. We thought it would be a great idea to create a dress for her made from book pages. Neither Reg nor I are handy at sewing but we can definitely make magic with a glue gun.
Reg started with a petti skirt and a simple dress as the base, and carefully glued on torn book pages from an old book we grabbed in the thrift store. There are so many ways to get creative with this, so just let your kids use their imagination and creativity. Don't strive for perfection here, just make it fun!
For our mini astronaut, we were inspired by a painting we had seen with an astronaut surrounded by florals. We thought it would be a great way to put a feminine spin on the traditional astronaut suit. For the helmet, we spray painted a costume astronaut helmet and adorned it with faux flowers using the glue gun. Matching florals and gems were also added to her astronaut suit.
When kids come into our studio, it's usually their first time seeing their creative costumes and outfits. By incorporating what they love, we know it's going to make our job of capturing great photos much easier.
A big part of what makes our photos special are the details that go into wardrobe, as well as hair and makeup. Each part of the styling helps to tell a complete story. We work with our team behind the scenes to bring the entire look together. If you're trying this at home, try searching for easy DIY styles and ideas on Pinterest. Pro tip: you can never go wrong with face jewels and face paint.
After the look is complete, it's time to capture the moment and memorialize the look. Whether you're using a cell phone camera or DSLR, the idea is to make sure you capture your child's personality and tell their story through your photos.
In terms of setup, a simple paper backdrop is best, however you can get creative here as well. Bed sheets, walls, and scrapbooking paper can be used as backdrops in lieu of backdrop paper.
Sometimes we even double up and use two or three colors to create a unique and colorful background.
Of course, as professional photographers, we use studio lights that help light our subjects and create the mood we are trying to convey. But don't be discouraged; you can find great light around your house too. One of our best places in the home to take photos is in the garage. It's where we took photos for years when we first started out in photography. The light coming from an open garage door is gorgeous and can be used as a natural light source for your photos if you do not have studio lights. Placing your setup near a regular door or window can work as well.
One of the questions we receive most about photographing children is how we get the kids to hang in there with us through the shoot. As a parent, you're probably already aware of the struggle in trying to get great portraits of your child. One of the biggest tips we give is to let your kids have a say in the process. Don't worry about getting the perfect shot. Sometimes the mishaps and imperfections turn out to be our favorite photos. We are often negotiating with kids so they feel like their voice is being heard. If they have a particular pose or idea they'd like to do, we ask them to let us get a few of our ideas in first, then they can do anything they want (within reason). Even if you don't end up using those photos, it makes it much easier to keep them engaged in the session.
We also recommend letting kids see themselves on camera during the process. One of our favorite things about our photo shoots is when kids see themselves on camera for the first time and they see a version of themselves they never thought was possible. It often gets them excited and sparks new ideas for them throughout the session.
Kids who are encouraged to embrace their dreams will have a more solid foundation of self-awareness and understanding. Through our art and lens, we hope we can create an environment that fosters unlimited imagination and empowerment. We also hope our photos will inspire you to try some creative captures of your children's wildest dreams.
Special thanks to Canon's Explorers of Light program for its support, encouragement, and providing us with a platform of an international photography company that helps inspire others to pursue their own unique creativity.
For more inspiration, check out our coffee-table book, Glory, which puts Black beauty front and center with more than 100 breathtaking photographs and a collection of powerful essays about children across the African diaspora.
Visual Editor: Jillian Sellers
Photographer: CreativeSoul Photography
Art Director: Julia Bohan Upadhyay
Designer: Emma Darvick